Living with asthma

Written by: Dr Neal Navani
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Asthma is a long-term inflammatory disease affecting the airways to the lungs. It is a common problem – over 300 million people worldwide have it. Asthma rates are increasing, and as the problems often start in childhood, it is beneficial to understand the options available for treatment of the disease. Dr Neal Navani, a leading London respiratory expert, talks us through the key points of asthma, and how it can be treated.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a common condition of the lungs which can cause problems with breathing. It often starts when patients are young, but adults can also experience asthma in later life. Symptoms include wheezing, tightness in the chest, cough, and a feeling of breathlessness. Some people experience these symptoms more frequently and with more severity than others. When these symptoms become temporarily worse, this is called an asthma attack.

How can asthma be treated?

There is no cure for asthma yet. However, there are ways the disease can be controlled. The first step is always to visit a doctor and draw up an action plan. They will help you decide which medication to take, and advise you on how to monitor your asthma.

Inhalers are associated with asthma, because this is the best way for the patient to administer the medication they need to help control the disease. There are several types of inhaler – reliever inhalers, preventer inhalers, and a combination of preventer and long-term relief inhalers.

Reliever inhalers

These inhalers are usually blue, and should always be carried by a person with asthma, as they are used to relieve asthma symptoms in a short space of time. However, it is possible that the patient may not need to use the reliever inhaler if they are using a preventer inhaler regularly.

Reliever inhalers widen the airways and help the patient to breathe more easily, with a short-term relief of about fifteen minutes.

Preventer inhalers

Preventer inhalers are usually orange or brown, and need to be used regularly to put a stop to asthma symptoms. Even if you are not experiencing any symptoms, these inhalers help keep inflammation under control long-term, so it is essential to keep using them.

There are other types of treatment, including tablets containing specific medication for the treatment of asthma, and long-term inhalers that can be used less often as their effects can last half the day.

Complimentary therapies for asthma

We don’t really know how effective complimentary therapies are for asthma, but they can certainly be used as an attempt to help the patient feel more in control of their asthma and relieve short-term symptoms. Complimentary therapies include acupuncture, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and breathing exercises. These therapies should never replace medication and official treatment prescribed by your doctor. Always consult a doctor or specialist to decide on your treatment plan.

By Dr Neal Navani
Pulmonology & respiratory medicine

Dr Neal Navani is one of London's leading respiratory experts. He practises at a number of prominent medical establishments in the capital including University College London (UCL) Hospital, The Physician's Clinic and King Edward VII's Hospital. He specialises in endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS), bronchoscopy, coughs, asthma, lung cancer and smoking-related lung diseases. He also specialises in lung problems in people with cancer.

Graduating from Cambridge University with a MBBS in 1997, Dr Navani went on to complete his initial clinical medical training University College London, qualifying in 2000. He trained at Brompton and Hammersmith Hospitals in Reparatory Medicine before being awarded a Medical Research Council Fellowship in 2008. In 2011, he completed his PhD in University College London. Additionally, he obtained a MSc in Clinical Trials from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

Dr Navani has over 20 years' experience in treating patients. His patients and their needs are at the centre of his approach. He is currently the lead clinician for the lung cancer and interventional bronchoscopy services at University College London Hospital. 

In addition to his clinical roles, Dr Navani is the co-lead of the National Lung Cancer Audit and an associate professor at University College London. He is an author of various peer-reviewed publications, the British Thoracic Society guideline, quality standards for bronchoscopy and forms an integral part of numerous other professional bodies. He is a member of a number of esteemed medical societies including the British Thoracic Society and the European Respiratory Society. He is also a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.  

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